Recently, my 8- year old son was prescribed a medication for a minor infection. He expected this medication to taste somewhat pleasant as previous medications he had tasted were flavored and to his liking. Unfortunately, the 10-day course of medication he was prescribed is notoriously “vile” tasting. From the first taste, my son’s face tightened and a clear look of disgust appeared as the medication entered his mouth. I gave him milk to drink and a peanut butter sandwich to eat before and after the medication to help mask the taste, but nothing seemed to help.
After several days of watching my son courageously swallow the medication, I decided to teach him a common practice from sport psychology to try to improve the taste of the medication. My athlete clients learn to use their body language and self-talk to lower their experience of pain during long training sessions and competitions where they need to persevere and continue to execute their skills in the face of increasing fatigue and pain. I thought I would try the same approach with my son.
Here is what I asked him to do and how he responded.
First, I had him accept, observe, and not fight the sensations he experienced while drinking the medication. I told him to think about the sensations in his body as neither good nor bad, but just as sensations. I asked him to get close to the sensations, to feel them rather than avoid them. I could see a noticeable calming effect as he stopped fighting the sensations in his body as he took the medication. It was not a pleasant experience but it was clear that he was using much less energy to keep the negative sensations at bay.
Second, I had him act as though he was going to enjoy the medication before taking the medication. I asked him to use facial expressions and body language that is associated with eating food that he likes (e.g., ice cream, smoothie, nopales). It was funny to see him open his eyes wide, smile, and act excited as I opened the bottle of medication before pouring a dose. He clearly was getting into the act (he became quite theatrical) of anticipating the sensations associated with the medication being pleasant. I reminded him of how he is able to change his feeling about math problems if he sits up and smiles rather than slouching over his books with his head in his hands and sighing.
Finally, I had him consciously think about how much he was going to enjoy the medication and to express these thoughts in words out loud. He began to say, “I can’t wait to have it. I love this medicine. It tastes great. When can I have more?” After several days, he was actually running to get the medicine, standing wide eyed, smiling, and reaching for the medication. He really made a fun game out of the process. After each time drinking the medication, he did a little ritual that he developed. As soon as he swallowed the medication, he would turn his head to the side and smile as though he had had the most delectable drink one could imagine. Interestingly, the first few times he did this it was clear that he was partially faking the response, but within a few days after practicing these strategies, he was truly enjoying the sensation of the medication in his body. After the course of medication had finished, he continues to ask when he could have more.
So, did he change the sensations coming into his body or did he change his interpretation of those sensations or both? This is a chicken and egg question that I can’t answer. What I can tell you is that you have a lot of latitude in how you work with the “raw” data coming into your body from all your senses.
Try this process of acceptance and working with your mind and body as a way to transform your experience and enhance your performance and well-being.
For more information on the acceptance part of this process, you may like to read Russell Harris’s article titled: Embracing Your Demons: an overview of acceptance and commitment therapy: http://www.actmindfully.com.au/upimages/Dr_Russ_Harris_-_A_Non-technical_Overview_of_ACT.pdf